(Photo By Flickr User Matthew Roth)
“California, here they come; nine seasons where they last started from!”
“Attention Fighting Illini pigskin fans, attention Fighting Illini pigskin fans, it’s Bowl Time!”
According to 247sports.com, the University Of Illinois football’s last bowl win came in the San Francisco area, a 20-14 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl win in 2011 against the UCLA Bruins. So the Illini (6-6, 4-5 Big Ten), now hope for another welcome return to the Bay Area as it will play California (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) in the Redbox Bowl in Santa Clara, CA on Monday, December 30th. The game kicks off at 1pm Pacific/3pm Central Time and will air on FOX-TV.
This will be the Illini’s first bowl game since 2014, their first under head coach Lovie Smith and their 19th overall. Illinois has an 8-10 bowl record and has won four of its last seven bowl appearances, dating back to 1994.
Illinois athletics director Josh Whitman said in a statement,
“The University of Illinois is thrilled to accept the invitation for our football team to participate in the 2019 Redbox Bowl. The game features a traditional Pac-12 opponent, one of our country’s great stadiums, an advantageous date, and a premier television partner. We are excited for our players and fans to experience the San Francisco Bay area, which is home to our University’s second-largest largest concentration of alumni. We hope Fighting Illini faithful from across the country will join us in California to celebrate a memorable season and help our team in its push for win number seven.”
The Illini started the season 2-4 before winning four straight Big Ten games (for the first time since 2001) to gain bowl eligibility. The Illini lost back-to-back games to Iowa and Northwestern to end the season.
Smith said in a statement,
“Playing in a bowl game is another step in the growth of our football program. It is the culmination of hundreds of days and thousands of hours of hard work by our players and staff. The excitement shown by our team when we got the win to become bowl eligible is something I’ll never forget. Playing in a bowl game is huge step for our program in terms of the extra practices, the message it sends to recruits and the excitement we see both within our team and throughout our great fan base.”
Illinois is 14-14 all-time in the state of California, including 3-4 in bowl games. Illinois is 7-3 all-time against Cal-Berkeley, though the Golden Bears won the last two meetings: 35-20 in Berkeley during the 2005 season and 31-24 in Champaign during the 2003 season.
The Redbox Bowl has been played in the San Francisco/Bay Area since 2002, though Redbox is the game’s fourth sponsor. The bowl was played at AT&T Park, the San Francisco Giants home park, from 2002 to 2013 before moving in 2014 to Levi’s Stadium, the San Francisco 49ers home field.
The game was originally called the San Francisco Bowl, then the Emerald Bowl from 2004-2009, the Fighting Hunger Bowl from 2010 to 2013 and the Foster Farms Bowl from 2014 to 2017. Redbox took over sponsorship in 2018.
The Big Ten has been tied into the game since 2014 and is 2-3 in the game. Michigan State lost 7-6 to Oregon in the 2018 Redbox Bowl.
The bowl appearance allows Illinois an extra opportunity to legitimize 2019 as a breakthrough season for the program, improve its recruiting sell and wash out the bad taste of ending the season with back-to-back losses.
Smith also said,
“In a way, we get a chance to start a fresh season. We have a one-game season coming up. How we go into the offseason, that’s not going to take away anything from what we did right now. We’re a bowl team. That’s progress with our program. But we still want to be a bowl team that finishes it off the right way, and the chance to have a winning record is big for us.”
For more information & details on traveling with the team or attending the game, log on to fightingillini.com, right now!